Speaking In ToungesWriten by Nathan C. Johnson

The subject of speaking in tongues is a difficult one for many believers today. Some are strongly in favor of the modern tongues movement. Some are not prepared to speak in tongues themselves, but are at the same time unwilling to admit that others who claim to have this gift are wrong. Some believe that many tongues today are faked but that there are real tongues "out there somewhere." And some believe that all who claim to have the gift of tongues are either deceived or liars, and that there is no such gift for believers today. The author of this article believes the latter, and this will be a very brief explanation of his position and why he believes it.

The main word for "speak" in Hebrew is dabar (daw-bar'), and literally means "to arrange." In the case of speaking it is used figuratively of arranging words in a logical order so as to express a thought. The main Greek word for "speak" is laleo (lal-eh'-o), and means to talk or to utter words. The word for "tongues" is glossa (gloce-sah'), and means literally the tongue, and by figure a language. Thus it would seem from the elemental parts of the phrase, "speaking in tongues," that it would mean "to say something in a language or languages." Moreover, the Bible confirms this definition, where, in Acts 2, we learn that what was called "to speak with other tongues" in verse 4 is defined by those who heard in verse 8 as "we hear, each in our own language in which we were born" and verse 11 as "we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God." Thus we have established for us what "speaking in tongues" means…it means speaking in languages. The gift of tongues, therefore, was the gift of a language which beforehand I had not known how to speak. For example, if you suddenly knew Russian even though you'd never learned a word of it before that time, that would be the gift of speaking in tongues. Yet, the charismatics say that speaking unknown sounds that no one recognizes as a language can be speaking in tongues. I insist that this is not what the Bible says.

But many have made the argument I just made. Yet, the tongues speaker claims, "The Bible says we should speak in tongues. And, since there are no other tongues out there, this must be what it is talking about." And, indeed, they would have a point if that was indeed the case. For the Bible does say in Mark 16: 15-18, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick and they will recover." Since this says these signs will follow those who believe, we have to arrive at one of four conclusions:

  1. Anyone who does not have these signs follow them, including the author of this article, Billy Graham, Chuck Swindoll, and a multitude of others, is not truly a believer.
  2. These signs are following all true believers, but some are living in disobedience and ignorance and have somehow managed to avoid manifesting them.
  3. God is unfaithful to His promise and has not provided these signs as He said He would.
  4. This commission has been fulfilled, and therefore this promise of God is no longer in effect.
I think there is no need for me to refute the first and the third, as anyone who believed these would not have bothered to read this far in this article. But some might believe the second. I believe that the fourth is true. Some might find this unthinkable. Yet I am reminded of something Arthur Conan Doyle often had Sherlock Holmes say in his famous novels, "Once you have eliminated the impossible, what remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." And, though some might find this highly unlikely, and some might find it disturbing, I nevertheless believe it to be true. For we do not even have to leave Mark to find out whether or not the believers to whom Christ spoke this obeyed His command, and whether or not God remained faithful in helping them as He said He would. For in verse 20 we read, "And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen." Can it be that the believers to whom Christ spoke accomplished the task He gave them to "preach the gospel to every creature" BEFORE Mark even wrote these words in his gospel?

But some may argue that "preached everywhere" is not the same thing as "every creature." Well, that is true, but this is not the only passage that speaks to this effect. "By the mouth of two or three witnesses" we will establish this truth. Let us now look to the writings of Paul in Colossians 1:5-6, where we read, "because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth." So the gospel had come into all the world! But the most plain of all is Colossians 1:23, which settles the matter (and gives us our third witness) by saying, "if you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister." If anything could be more clear than the PAST TENSE "was preached to every creature under heaven" I would like to hear it. If any wish to argue that we need to preach to those in heaven as well, then I would invite them to try to do so. But otherwise, I think there can be no doubt that the commission of Mark 16 was fulfilled to the letter as far as God was concerned.

I have had some people get carried away when they have heard me say this and conclude that I do not support missionaries or preaching the gospel or trying to save the lost. Such concepts are not based just on this one passage, and I will come behind no man in saying that I am fully in support of reaching the lost of every land. But I will not try to base my belief on a commission that has been fulfilled already. If we must have a commission, then why not II Timothy 4:2, which reads, "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching." That is what I am attempting to do with this message!

But now, if the commission of Mark 16 has been fulfilled, then where is the necessity of tongues today? God's promise was fulfilled and completed when Paul wrote Colossians and Mark wrote his gospel, and there is no more need for Him to fulfill that promise now than it is necessary for Him to again fulfill His promise to send Christ to die for our sins. No, once God has fulfilled a promise, it is fulfilled, and the promise of Mark is such a promise. So we see the argument of the charismatics dissolve, and the idea that what they are doing "must be" the speaking in tongues of the Scripture is shown to only be so much smoke based on a promise that was already fulfilled long ago.

But what is it that the tongues speakers are doing then? Why do so many sincere Christians believe in tongues if there is nothing to it?

God exhorted Timothy in II Timothy 1:13 to "Hold fast the form of sound words which you heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." One of the most dangerous tactics of the deceiver is to change in our minds the meaning of a specific Biblical word. Once he has done this, then every time we read a verse in our Bibles we think of the deception rather than the truth. This is what Satan has done with the phrase "speaking in tongues." It should be clear to anyone with an unbiased mind that the Bible means "saying something in a language" when it uses the phrase "speaking in tongues." Nevertheless, many have become deceived into thinking that it means, "saying something in words or sounds that no one understands." Because of this mental switch that Satan has pulled off in the minds of many, there are thousands of believers who every time they read their Bibles and come upon the phrase "speaking in tongues" are fully convinced that what they are doing is correct and fully supported by the Scriptures! But they are deceived, because the form of these sound words has left them, and they have substituted an untrue definition of these words in its place.

But let us examine another sound word to see what it is exactly that these tongues speakers are doing. In II Timothy 2:15, we read, "Be diligent to present yourself to approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Perhaps God knew that many would not understand that the commission of Mark had been fulfilled and would look for the accompanying signs in their own lives. For in the very next verse He states, "But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness." Here are three "sound words." Profane (bebelos) means worldly or wicked. Vain and babbling are one word in Greek (kenophonia), and mean empty soundings. What are empty sounds? They are sounds which have no meaning. A baby babbles. Someone who is so worked up he cannot speak articulately babbles. And these charismatics babble. We would have to admit that that is what they are doing if we would hold fast the form of these sound words and apply them to their actions. But the Spirit warns us here that this will increase to more ungodliness (asebeia), which means impiety. What kind of ungodliness? Perhaps taking other things that are false and claiming that they are the miracles and mighty acts of God! But the charismatics are already doing this with great zeal. And yet, if they would hold fast to the form of these sound words, they would see that not only does the Bible not condone what they are doing, it actually condemns it! But, alas, they have lost the meaning of the phrase "speaking in tongues," and thus they are deceived.

It is not my intention to condemn anyone. Nevertheless, I believe that it is necessary to point these things out from the Scripture. If you wish to believe in tongues, you may do so, of course. But are you really believing the form of sound words? Or are you believing a lie? Are you really looking for something God has promised for us today? Or are you asking God to return again to a work He has already completed? I pray that this message will help you see which of these is truly the case.